An African-American history buff, Anthony Phillips studied grassroots leaders such as the late activists Roxanne Jones, David P. Richardson Jr. and the Rev. Leon Sullivan, who led Zion Baptist Church for nearly 40 years.
According to Phillips, he will aim to emulate their grassroots approach.
“They realized that it’s important for you to connect with people,” Phillips said. “They worked to ensure that working-class people were always at the forefront of politics.”
He made his comments at an editorial meeting with reporters and editors of The Philadelphia Tribune.
Jones was a state senator for the 3rd district from 1985 to 1996, and Richardson was a Democratic state representative for the 201st district from 1973 to 1995.
Phillips, executive director of Youth Action and director of college prep programs at TeenSHARP, is the Democratic candidate for the 9th Council District. He is seeking to replace Cherelle L. Parker, who resigned in September to run for mayor.
Phillips, 33, is also a member of the Democratic Committee in the 50th District. The 9th District includes parts of Northwest and Northeast Philadelphia.
A former state representative who represented the 200th District from 2005 to 2015, Parker was elected to the City Council in 2015.
Parker and fellow Council members Alan Domb, Derek Green, both at-large members, and Maria Quiñones Sanchez, who represented the 7th District, all recently resigned and plan to run for mayor. Only Domb has not officially announced his campaign.
Phillips will join Quetsi Lasada, vice president of the nonprofit community group Esperanza, who was also selected by Democratic Party leaders as a candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot to replace Sanchez. The party also selected longtime Council aide Sharon Vaughn and Jimmy Harrity, an aide to state Sen. Sharif Street, D-3rd District, as at-large or citywide nominees.
For his part, Phillips said the nonprofit he leads helps underprivileged students get college scholarships and develop leadership skills, so he will continue to focus on education as a way to improve society.
But Phillips said he’s also concerned about improving commercial corridors in the neighborhood that could create jobs and boost community pride.
Phillips said his grandmother moved to Philadelphia in the 1950s from South Carolina in search of a better life. He was raised by a single mother in the Nicetown neighborhood of North Philadelphia before moving to Mount Airy and attending a private high school. His mother worked two jobs to pay for school.
In doing so, she instilled in Phillips the importance of education and sacrifice.
“When I got to Mount Airy, things suddenly started to change for me,” Phillips said. “My mother used to say, ‘Go get an education.’ I took school a little more seriously.”
So Phillips got his bachelor’s degree from a small college in Maine and his master’s degree from Yale University. He is currently working on his doctorate at the University of Massachusetts studying the Black Church. Phillips volunteers as a bus driver at Salem Baptist Church in Abington, where he is a member.
As a teenager, a trip to the National Great Black Wax Museum in Baltimore sparked his interest in black history. It features famous African Americans and other black historical figures.
Virtually certain to be elected because of the heavily Democratic 9th District, Phillips will likely serve on the Council through the end of the year and run for a full term in the May 2023 primary.
Phillips said he plans to listen to his neighbors and also look to history to be an effective leader.
“It’s very important to me to be accountable to serve our people and our community,” Phillips said. “Anything I can do to make sure I’m listening and doing is important.”
For example, he said he wants to build on programs like Philadelphia’s OIC, one of the region’s oldest vocational training organizations and a brainchild of Sullivan.
“These are things we can emulate or model,” Phillips said. “We know that things have worked in the past. Of course we need to build new things for the future and be innovative. But we have to look at our history and what has affected our future.”